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Player Cries Foul, But Was It?

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I'd like your opinion on how this blackjack scenario should have been handled. I placed a $100 bet, my biggest wager of the evening, and the deal proceeded. Before the first player started, a player at mid-table let the dealer know he only received one card. Of course, the pit boss is called over and her decision was to offer that player the option of calling his hand dead or filling the hand with the next card in the deck. But here is the crux of my question, shouldn't what happened be called a misdeal? At third base, my cards would have been different, as would those of the other players. As it turned out I had 16 and eventually busted. Dale L.

Let me start by saying that occasional mistakes by a dealer is something all players should expect. The average dealer throws about 300 hands an hour, for six hours a day, five days a week. This works out to approximately half a million hands of dealing, counting, paying, and retrieving a year. No one in the world can do something 500,000 times in a row completely error free.

That said Dale, I would have handled the situation based, of course, on my experience with the rules in the multiple casinos where I have worked, in the following manner.

First, as was done in your case, I would have offered the middle position player that was short a card the choice of receiving the next card or being allowed to fold. After that, since the cards were "out-of-order," all other players at the table would be given the option of playing the two cards they were dealt, or calling their hands dead and folding them as well.

Now you would seldom see the cards backed up to make them right, nor would you hear the word “misdeal.” Misdeals do happen, but are typically related to a poker game when cards weren't cut before the deal, or they were dealt out of order, but you wouldn't see this at a blackjack table.

Where you might have a legitimate complaint is if different pit bosses, even those working in the same pit, make different decisions. If they call a hand differently it is confusing for the players. So, most casinos have game manuals an inch-thick with rules and regulations designed to cover every possible situation.

The casino where you played, may not have given you a fair shake regarding whether you could call your hand dead. Their rules and regs are definitely different from the ones I used. Or it could be, Dale, the size of your $100 wager not being closer to the table minimum was a factor in the decision. I’ve seen these things handled both ways, usually based on the fear of players being in cahoots with each other than because of a dealer error.

The places I worked did allow some leeway when it came to a situation like yours. My personal approach was to always try to find a solution that favored the player. I figured, Dale, that the casino would recover any player’s winnings within the next hand or two.

Dear Mark: I have always wondered just how often a dealer busts in the game of blackjack. On average about how many times does this happen? Skip B.

The number of times a dealer busts, Skip, depends a lot on his or her up-card. Excluding the times a dealer has a “natural 21,” if they're showing a 7 – Ace, he or she will bust approximately 17% of the time. And if their up-card is a 2 – 6, the dealer will bust about 42% of the time. Overall, considering all possible dealer up-cards, they will bust around 28 percent of the time.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Chronic numbers players... see clues to their fortune in the most minute and insignificant phenomena, in clouds, on passing trucks and subway cars, in creams, comic strips, the shape of dog-luck fouled on pavements.” – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)